Everything you need to know, and what you can do in 2023 to make UC fossil-free

Hi! I’m Monica, and I’m speaking to you today as a member of the UC Green New Deal Coalition — a climate justice and action coalition of organizations and individuals across the UC system, building a movement to push the UC to enact a bold, just, and transformative UC GND that meets the emergency of the climate crisis. 

Over the last three years, UC community members across the 10-campus system have been working tirelessly to advocate for true climate leadership from our institution and to demand a fossil-free UC. And I am delighted to report that we’ve made some progress that I’d like to share with you, as well as briefly updating you about the UC’s current climate policy, where they need to do better, and how we are providing a multitude of actionable solutions for them to avert the worst effects of climate change.

In 2013, the UC enacted its Carbon Neutrality 2025 Initiative but over the last decade the UC has failed to reduce its carbon emissions (raw emissions data). Instead, on-campus emissions have sat steady at million tones every year, primarily as a result of the burning of methane in UC’s many cogeneration plants that produce electricity and heat. How is this consistent with the carbon neutral goal? The plan was to buy a lot of carbon offsets. Basically, the UC pays other entities to reduce their emissions or plant trees in order to cancel out the UC’s emissions as it continues with business as usual. This is neither fair nor an equivalent costs – in the current market, carbon credits are way too cheap (learn more).

Our grassroots climate justice community at UC was deeply concerned about the fact that the UC had chosen to shirk its responsibility, vacating its moral obligation to safeguard a livable future in the richest country on Earth, at an enormously wealthy university system, is deeply problematic. The UC should be a leader, investing the necessary resources to electrify all 10 of its campuses—but instead it continues to stand behind an outdated and flawed approach. And so we demanded more from our university!

In 2020, we helped circulate a petition calling for the electrification of the UC system which garnered 3,500 individual signatures, as well as endorsements from unions representing 46,000 UC workers.

In 2021, we drafted a comprehensive, 74-page, climate policy framework that took a year to finalize, called the UC GND Policy Platform and ran a petition to gather support in calling on the UCOP, UC Regents, and Chancellors of all 10 UC’s to enact environmental justice initiatives on Green Energy, Transportation, Housing, Construction, Land Use, Food, Waste, Divestment, Education, and Labor.

In 2022, our members and allies in the Academic Senate voted to pass (85% of those voting said Yes!) a Senate Memorial (formal statement) demanding action from UCOP:

“The University of California Academic Senate petitions the Regents for investments in UC’s infrastructure that will reduce on-campus fossil fuel combustion by at least 60% of current levels by 2030 and by 95% of current levels by 2035.”

In response to all this activism the UC decided to establish a “Pathways to a Fossil Free UC Taskforce” and has committed to providing funds for campuses to conduct electrification studies that we hope will pave the way to campus decarbonization. Huge thanks to all those who made this win possible!

Now it’s 2023 and the UC is coming hard up against that carbon neutral by 2025 deadline and we’ve finally convinced them they need to do better. The UC is currently re-writing its Climate Protection Policy which outlines its climate action goals and emission reduction targets and timelines. Instead of aiming for carbon neutrality and relying on offsets, the UC is setting campus emission reduction goals. Unfortunately, the new draft goals call for near-zero emissions by 2045 which is simply way too late. So the activism isn’t over!

We are currently working with members of the Task Force to establish more ambitious goals that are truly in line with the urgency of the climate crisis. We are calling for goals that are in line with what the Faculty Senate Memorial asked for – 95% reduction in Scope 1 emissions by 2035 – as well as reductions of Scope 2 and 3 emissions. The draft policy is scheduled to go to the UC Sustainability Steering Committee on May 5th, so time is of the essence!

After ratification of the new goals our job will be to make sure the UC gets, and stays, on track to meet those goals. We can’t have another situation where the UC gets two years out from the deadline and has failed to do anything!

The University of California is the 3rd largest employer in a state that, if it were its own country, would be the 5th largest economy in the world. The decisions made here have impacts far and wide, which places members of the UC in a uniquely powerful position as part of a large, prestigious, and influential institution where our voices are amplified on a pedestal by virtue of the university system we are a part of. Student-led movements at the UC have historically been at the forefront of change, and it’s time again for that to be the case.

If we can move the UC, we can move the state and other universities, and if we can move the state, we can move the country.

Change is always possible where you are.

If you want to join the work we’re doing, take a second to fill out our interest form.

Additionally, the UC Board of Regents meet 6 times every year, every other month. These meetings allow for Public Comment, both in writing and in person (virtually) to speak on matters relating to the UC and agenda items for that meeting. So be on the lookout for opportunities to take action with us to voice concern over the UC’s lackluster climate policy and in advocating for a UC Green New Deal!

Thank you so much for reading and for your support!

(Shout out to Bijan who wrote the 2022 update of this nature that this update relies heavily on)

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